“I think it was Mayor (Jim) Davis who said, ‘Let’s have a parade,’” said his wife Susan Davis, who is co-chairing with him the committee organizing the second annual Veterans Day Parade.
She said last year’s inaugural parade drew about 20,000 people to see veterans, classic cars, motorcycle riders, marching bands, Scout troops and others parade down Second Street in downtown Antioch. She and fellow committee members are expecting a similar turnout this year. It begins, appropriately, at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11 near the Antioch Lumber Company and ends up at the marina.
Hoping to make the annual parade an event for all of East County, committee members have been drumming up support by speaking at community events, setting up a table at the mall, placing fliers around town and issuing Chamber of Commerce e-blasts. So far, 20 participants from last year are on board for this year’s parade, including the Antioch and Deer Valley high school bands, numerous military vehicles, veteran motorcycle groups and community organizations. Front and center in the parade will be WWII veterans – more of whom are still being sought – followed by those from other past and current conflicts.
“I think it’s important that we honor all of the men and women who served in all of the wars and who have given their lives for us to enjoy the freedoms that we do,” said Mayor Davis. “We are expecting this year to be bigger and better. If it’s anything like last year, we are expecting a tremendous turnout.”
As many as five veterans might serve as co-grand marshals for the parade, which this year honors prisoners of war. Antioch resident Vincent Silva, 91, was one of those prisoners, one of the fortunate survivors of the Bataan Death March in the Phillipines in World War II. Despite the hardships, Silva looks back on his service as “a great experience” but adds “I wouldn’t go through it again for $1 million.”
Silva plans to attend the Antioch parade. “I think it’s a good idea,” he said. “I think the veterans should be honored in some way after all we went through over there for the protection of our country. We do live in the greatest country in the world. I have been in other countries and I know the difference. We have the best schools, the best teachers, the best of everything.”
Another of the grand marshals will be Benicia resident Richard Lundin, 72, a major general in the Northern California Army Reserve. Lundin served in three wars – Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf – and under 11 presidents. He believes it’s particularly important to honor World War II veterans, who are “dying at a rate of one thousand a day,” he said. “We have to honor them every time we can.”
Regardless of the war, Lundin and his fellow vets in the VFW, American Legion, the Elks and Lions are always ready to help out a former serviceman in need. Recently they came to the aid of a guy down on his luck without money for food for his family. “When there is a need, there is a network,” he said. This year his focus is on honoring noncommissioned officers, which he summed up by saying, “No sergeants, no soldiers; no soldiers, no army; no army, no nation.”
Antioch resident Leo Fontana served in World War II, the highlight of which was a 3½-month stretch in England manning a .50-caliber anti-aircraft gun when German planes were bombing the country. “I am glad that they recognize the veterans,” said Fontana, another grand marshal. “It’s nice that they keep the faith and there’s people recognizing these things.”
At 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918, World War I concluded when Germany’s Kaiser Wilhem II agreed to President Woodrow Wilson’s conditions for ending the war, and a general armistice was declared.
A year later Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11 as Armistice Day, which Congress later resolved “should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations.” The name would later be changed to Veterans Day to include those who have fought for the United States in the several wars that have followed “the war to end all wars.”
Veterans Day has never quite gotten the respect of other national holidays, however. Many people not employed by the government will likely be at work on Wednesday, Nov. 11. For seven years in the 1970s, Veterans Day lost its historical connection to the armistice when it was moved to Monday to accommodate three-day weekends before being moved back following protests by veterans.
To let the committee know of veterans who would like to participate, or to get more information on the Veterans Day Parade, call Jim and Susan Davis at 925-757-2020 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Applications for parade participants may be downloaded from www.art4antioch.org.